Make Room For The Stuttering

Hey, You Can’t Say You Stutter

Posted on: January 9, 2013

Last night at my Toastmasters meeting, we were all asked to introduce ourselves and tell each other what Toastmasters has done for us. Guests or new members were asked to share how they hoped to benefit from joining Toastmasters.

Two people who spoke before me both used the word “stutter” in their introductions.

A veteran of the club said Toastmasters has helped him be more confident and effective, and not bumble and stutter with words.

A newer member said she hopes to learn to not stutter when she is nervous and to not panic as much when she does any public speaking.

This made me bristle! I felt like saying to them, “Hey, you don’t stutter! You don’t know what it’s really like to know what you want to say and have your speech disrupted or blocked.”

I felt offended that they used the word stutter so casually, when to me stuttering is so personal and has significantly shaped who I am today. I wanted to correct them, to educate them, to defend all stutterers who really stutter.

But I didn’t! It wasn’t the time or place. People weren’t there to learn about stuttering. They were at a Toastmasters meeting, where we all come to get better at communication and leadership.

I kept my bristly thoughts to myself. Maybe I need to do a speech soon on what stuttering is and isn’t!

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7 Responses to "Hey, You Can’t Say You Stutter"

Yes! You should do a speech on that. I know it will be great, entertaining and educational. I notice the casual-ness of the word “stutter” and feel the same way.

Barb, I have done several speeches on stuttering for my Toastmaster’s club, but it’s been well over two years since I specifically spoke about stuttering, and there have been changes and new members. So it’s time I do it again. Thanks!

Drives Danielle crazy as well. She also is not so fond of that phrase, “Did I stutter?” as a replacement for “Do you understand?”!! Danielle would probably go up and say something like, “Girl, that’s not a stutter — Let me SHOW you a stutter!” Suzanne

Hi Pam, it’s amazing that I just “happened” to see this post! Of course, you know I believe that there’s no such thing as coincidence. Since I was there at the meeting and heard the same thing, I have to say that I also “bristled” at the casual use of their choice of the word “stutter”. Maybe it’s because you were there that I was more sensitive to it, or maybe because my 12 yr. old son stutters at times. I’d love to hear another speech about stuttering; it’s been too long and the newer members have to hear it.
I wonder if it’s similar to people using the word “retard” or “retarded” so casually also. As you know,one of my sons is mentally disabled and when people use that word, it drives me crazy! Why are people so insensitive? I guess we have to educate people one at a time. Although, I’m sure I’ve said the wrong things at times too (hopefully, not too often).

I would imagine that most stutterers can relate to this post. Whenever I hear the word ‘stutter’ casually used, I wince. Whether it’s a jovial sports commentator, lamenting that “the team got off to a stuttering start” or an affable person on radio, joking “OMG, I’m so nervous, I just hope that I don’t stutter”, I’m thrust instantly into a state of hyper-sensitivity. The thought uppermost in my mind is: “hey, you just watch what you’re saying!”

Of course, this reaction is abit ridiculous. I/we don’t have exclusive ownership of the word ‘stutter’. I suspect that the problem is derived from the pejorative use of the term. However, we can’t dispute this, given its dictionary definition. I just wonder if people who have mobility problems react in a similar manner when they hear an athlete described as “limping home in a poor finish” … or do people with a hearing impediment grimace when someone jokingly says “are you deaf or what?”. It would be interesting to know.

I’m sort of part of the disability rights movement and I know there are definitely people with mobility impairments who object to things like “limping” in the example you gave (or “lame” as a perjorative, for that matter), d/Deaf people who don’t like that usage of “deaf”, blind people who object to things like “blind” used as a metaphor for ignorance, etc.! So no, we’re definitely not the only ones.

One thing I find tricky for us stutterers is that dictionarywise stuttering *does* refer to both fluent people experiencing temporary disfluency and, well, us. So people who use stuttering like you said can just point to the dictionary and say “well, this is one of the meanings! it’s not exclusively a term referring to your speech disorder!” whereas e.g. “that’s so lame” or “are you deaf or what?” very clearly comes from disability. Honestly, I really wish there were separate terms precisely because of this… and because whenever I say I stutter online in non stuttering-specific spaces I end up having to fend off people going “oh, I know what that’s like, I trip over words too if I’m not paying attention to what I’m saying!” Not the stuttering I’m referring to, but alas I can’t make that clear through vocabulary choice.

We just had a talk in our last NSA meeting about people telling us that they stutter too when we advertise our stuttering. That’s even more frustrating, but atleast you have the opportunity to say something and educate them since it would be totally appropriate to do so.

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